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While You’re Here, Can You…?

Posted by Ronald Carlson | Thursday, March 25, 2010

We've all heard it before. Your Maintenance Tech arrives at a resident's door expecting to fix a freezer on the fritz, only to be presented with a laundry list of other "little" job requests. "While you're here, can you take a look at my kitchen tap? It's dripping. Oh, and maybe you could fix the door to the hallway. It's sticking. And, there's a lightbulb that blew last week."

The resident might think it's helpful to save these trivial jobs for one visit and not bother the Maintenance Department with multiple requests. Many of your seniors may have no idea how long each of the jobs will take, or what equipment is required. Your Tech hasn't the heart to refuse, finding it easier to give in than escape. He doesn't want to play the role of "bad guy" by walking away from the extra work and leaving the resident dissatisfied.

The problem is, as many of you tell me, these unplanned "While You're Here" requests can be a major drain on your department's resources. As more incidental jobs are added to the list, the less efficient your tech staff can be.

Why You Should Apply the Five-Minute Rule

This is precisely the time to apply the five-minute rule. If the additional jobs can be done quickly, without leaving the resident unit, and without affecting the next appointment, it makes sense to stay. Resident satisfaction goes up - but not at the expense of productivity.

However, if the job will take more than five minutes, because it requires different tools, extra equipment, a quick look at the manual, a trip back to base, or makes your Tech late for his next call, it's time for a separate Work Request.

Why is This Problem so Hard to Fix?

Human nature being what it is, we're programmed to please each other. It's hard to stick to policy and procedure when you've just been invited into a resident's home. But, unplanned jobs lead to unforeseen expenses and unnecessary frustration. Advanced planning makes much better use of time and money, and benefits everyone concerned - the resident, the Maintenance Tech and the organization. Address the problem openly, establish standard practices, and you'll soon increase business efficiency as well as resident satisfaction. Here are a few thoughts on what to do:

  • Talk to Your Leadership Team: It's time for a slight shift in culture. Explain why ad hoc responses to unplanned job requests are inefficient. In an economy that offers no lucky breaks, it's smart to stay lean. Estimate how much these inefficiencies might be costing the organization. Consider the unfairness to residents who are forced to wait for service due to maintenance time overruns.
  • Communicate With Residents: Arrange to speak at a town hall meeting, a fireside chat or a residents' council meeting. Explain how inefficiencies can lead to rate increases. Why it's important (and courteous) to keep to an appointment schedule. That you must attend to resident requests in a priority sequence. Describe how well planned maintenance means that your department can deliver more services, more efficiently. Ask residents to communicate a complete list of requests to the maintenance coordinator in advance of the visit, explaining that it's less of a bother than last-minute "While You're Here" requests.
  • Enroll Your Maintenance Coordinator: Teach your receptionist or maintenance coordinator to prompt residents for a complete list of outstanding maintenance problems, however trivial they may seem. When they ask the right questions, they'll get the whole list. Encourage them to remind residents how they'll benefit if all jobs are grouped under a single Work Order.
  • Talk to Your Techs: They're the ones in the firing line. You need to equip them with the skills to persuade residents why forward planning is essential. How it results in a better and more equitable service for everyone. Remind your staff why efficient planning makes you a leaner and more successful organization. Coach them on how to deal with "While You're Here" requests that step outside the five-minute rule. Encourage your Tech to phone in any unexpected jobs from the resident's phone, to demonstrate the right way to place a work request. (Calling in on a radio suggests priority treatment, and should be avoided).

So, why not make today the day that you start to apply the five-minute rule? Make it your pet project for the next six months and, before you know it, change will be in the air. Your Residents will be happy, your Techs will be more efficient, and your Leadership Team will be smiling.